How Detroit health entrepreneurs, gyms are staying afloat throughout the pandemic


In Detroit in recent years, the rise of boutique gyms, community-based exercise groups, and other entrepreneurs eager to make the city healthier has resulted in a burgeoning fitness culture in the city.

But with COVID-19, gyms like many small businesses are particularly hard hit by the pandemic. As of September 30, 15% of the gyms were permanently closed and the industry had lost more than $ 15 billion in sales and nearly 500,000 jobs, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association fitness lobby group.

Local fitness entrepreneurs have felt the impact and some have closed their doors for good. But some gyms and entrepreneurs have persevered.

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The Wise Decision’s Sterling Wise had to permanently close its downtown Detroit location. Opening at 25% capacity didn’t make business sense to him because the overheads are so high, he says. It still has a satellite location in Grosse Pointe, but there are plans to find a new space for the main location. In the meantime, he has moved most of his fitness and weight loss services online.

“One thing that COVID taught me is that there must be multiple sources of income when it comes to business,” he says. He started a nutrition company to offer protein meal replacement shakes and a pre-workout supplement. He also sells merchandise such as t-shirts, face masks, and headbands.

Introducing 313 Co-Founders Joe Robinson and Lance Woods also got into the merchandise game, opening an online store for the first time selling merchandise such as crew necks – their favorite item – tanks, hats and more.

They also hired their community online when they were unable to do the big group runs for which they were known. They started virtual campaigns and encouraged people to tag them. They also show up running, exercising to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and inspiring others to get out even at 20 degrees.

“The pandemic has left everyone, small business owners and the like, turning,” says Robinson. “During the height of the pandemic, we had a campaign called Run Solo. And that’s the first change we’ve made … [letting] Runners know that running is not prohibited. And to be sure, you should probably walk alone. “

Woods says their online campaigns saw people across the country and as far as Canada, which helped them increase brand awareness for We Run 313.

The pandemic was an opportunity for companies like the community-driven Yoganic Flow, which aims to make yoga accessible to Detroiters in order to strengthen their partnerships.

They began offering virtual classes after one of their community partners, Sidewalk Detroit, reached out to them for help with residents of northwest Detroit. This helped Yoganic Flow start their own virtual programming.

“We had to be really open and try things that we had never tried before. For example, our classes were in elementary schools and community centers. And with that degree we had a lot of teachers who lost their jobs. So we had to figure out how we can still serve this community, people who really need yoga, students, seniors. “

Eliminating the digital divide was another challenge. Yoganic Flow aims to bring yoga to underserved parts of the city that don’t have yoga studios.

“We have often found that it is only because of our correspondence that we work with the nonprofits we work with [that serve] There are three youth [youths] Perhaps more people will share a computer in the household. Also parents who share this computer. So it was not so easy for us to reach students. And in those cases where we have the opportunity to work with students, we have had to do it personally because the digital divide is real in Detroit and not all of our children have the ability and space to get online. ”

They’re considering how to safely offer in-person classes, but she looks forward to when the weather warms up so they can go back outside.

It was more of a challenge for gyms with physical locations.

William McCray of WillPower Fitness reopened the doors of his Clawson Gym in September. “It was hard. COVID has had a detrimental impact on the entire fitness industry.

“We had to rotate our model to get most of our training as focused as possible, even though gyms got the green light to open. Now there are a lot of people who don’t like going back to the gym. … And I suspect the reluctance will likely continue for another year or so before the numbers level off. “

Even so, the longtime fitness entrepreneur has learned a few things over the years, most notably how to adapt.

“The good thing about my particular facility is that it’s not one of the big box gyms. So we can adapt faster and take a different approach to our model, ”he says. A year and a half before the COVID-19 success, he developed an online training program that he can use to reach customers around the world. He also developed a brand new 30 minute high intensity workout that can be done at home. These adjustments, he says, “kept me afloat so that I could thrive in the midst of this chaos”.

At Live Cycle Delight, the pandemic has affected business at West Village Studios, but they’ve been busy, says founder Amina Daniels. “The quarantine kept us busy. And we are in the pandemic a year ago. So it was an interesting trip, I became a pivoter. All I do is Pivot, Pivot for the virtual classes, Pivot to sell more products, Pivot to improve our virtual experience. And we want to offer outdoor classes to make sure we continue the studio experience to the best of our ability and keep our customers safe. “

For her, it was “absolutely worth opening up,” she says. “We have managed to create a safe experience for customers, employees and trainers.” At the two locations in the West Village, which house three studios, each studio has an antimicrobial air purifier and disinfection stations. They took out bikes to ensure physical distance. The hot place is the only place they have shields right now, but she’s researching shield prices for the other studios. The temperature of each is measured with a non-contact scanner and the mask is forced to wear. In warmer weather, the training sessions take place outdoors.

Another linchpin was the addition of barre classes to the yoga, hot yoga, Pilates, cycling and TRX offerings. “That was enormous. We added four barre instructors during the pandemic [because] Barre’s gone. “

Local boutique gyms like her have to compete with fitness giants like Peloton, SoulCycle, and Instagram celebrity trainers.

“For our communities to have really small businesses, the community needs to support those small businesses. When these big companies get big everyone is talking about Amazon getting that big, but nobody really talks about the small businesses that have shut down because Amazon is growing exponentially. Or really for me, in my case, the world’s pelotons. [During the pandemic]Everyone bought a $ 3,000 bike. But what about your neighborhood studio? … If the small businesses cannot survive this pandemic, the value of the neighborhoods will decline. We are losing jobs in the community. And it’s a lot harder to keep things in town. “

But she is determined to keep going. “We will eradicate the pandemic and continue to make people safe and healthy. And stay COVID free. “